Modern culture prizes selflessness and abhors selfishness, in effect setting the two against each other.
"The alternatives are either to love others, which is a virtue or to love oneself, which is a sin," wrote social scientist and philosopher Erich Fromm in his essay titled "Selfishness and Self-Love."
How do we differentiate between valuing ourselves and egotistically indulging ourselves? While no one would argue with considering others, it could be worthwhile to re-examine our beliefs around being selfish. For example, do we genuinely aspire to be without concern for ourselves? Or is it important to value and love ourselves, think for ourselves, have a life of our own, and be able to love others without losing ourselves?
The answers lie in self-knowledge. When we undertake an inner journey and come to understand ourselves truly—the sacred and profane dimensions of our lives—we develop the capacity to deal honestly, thoughtfully, and lovingly with ourselves, as well as other people.
"The process of attaining self-knowledge both softens and strengthens us and serves to help us love and appreciate life and other people," says Bud Harris, author of the book Sacred Selfishness: A Guide to Living a Life of Substance.
Understanding ourselves better means discovering the adverse effects of our histories, working to change them, building on our strengths and potentials, and relating to people in a more straightforward, authentic manner. It also means learning to love ourselves, to take in the whole meaning of the biblical maxim "Love your neighbor as yourself."
"Self-love is the firm foundation that determines how strongly we can give love and receive love," Harris says.
Inner work, or the quest for self-knowledge, is greatly aided by the following three self-discovery tools. First and foremost, it is essential to remember inner work is not a quick-fix but a life-long deepening of the connection to your most authentic self that can enrich life beyond words.
Daily Stress & Anger Log
Writing in journals and keeping a log is not just recording events, as in a diary. To record is to explore feelings, thoughts, experiences, discover patterns, look for connections and themes, and express the innermost aspects of your life experience. The first objective is to pick a time—the same time every day—for regular journaling. If you can't think of anything to write at first, write, "Can't think of anything, can't think of anything," until your hand begins to flow with your essence, sharing what's just under the surface. Read Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, for great suggestions on journal writing.
With this tool, you give voice to your emotions and states of being and converse with them. For example, ask perfection why it has been so ever-present in your life. What is its role for you now? What does it want, what does it fear?
Either write down your dialogue or enact it. If you choose to role play, stand in a different space, with a different posture and facial characteristics, when you become the trait with whom you are conversing.
Dream images can have several layers of meaning, but all speak the language of the soul. So step 1 in working with dreams is to remember and record them. Keep a pad of paper or a cassette recorder by your bed and record what you can remember as you awaken.
Ultimately, assessments and evaluation tools in which you receive input from your facilitator are essential. Such techniques are fundamental to ward off the sacrifice syndrome due to the accumulation of stress. Stress can blunt our ability to see ourselves clearly and identify what may be going wrong. Accordingly, self-assessment is crucial to developing priorities, analyzing past relationships, assessing thoughts, feelings, actions, and behaviors to determine why a particular reaction to a situation occurred and the best way to respond in the future.
Learn how to love others without losing yourself. The Stress & Anger Management Institute provides individual coaching and group classes for personal and professional improvement. Please click here to schedule an appointment.